I was originally going to write about tutoring at the VARC for this blog. Yeah, I might be a little bitter that Vlad had a pretty great summary about what the tutors do at the Viterbi Academic Resource Center. But I think I can recover. I’ll save that blog for another week and just make it ridiculously awesome.
Not, of course, that Joint Educational Project is any less awesome, but I don’t have any cool pictures from it unfortunately. So here goes. Joint Educational Project is a program offered through the Dornsife College, where engineers typically take science, math, physics and General Education classes. Some of these classes give you the option to earn extra credit by volunteering in the local LA community, by teaching at the grade school level. For example, I took Calculus III my freshman year, and so I taught math to 4th graders every week. I was teaching at St. Vincent’s school, which is a Catholic school right next to this really majestic church on Figueroa. It was a few blocks away from campus, so it was really convenient.
The first day that I walked into the classroom, I was certainly intimidated. The teacher, Mrs. Mendez, was incredibly nice and introduced me as a student from USC. I was then assigned to sit with some of the lower-performing kids in the class, and I was to help them with their homework. I sat down at one of those elementary school desks where the whole lid opens up (I really miss those desks! College desks are super small for some reason!).
As soon as I started talking to the kids, I realized how much fun JEP was going to be. Sure, it was challenging when they asked me WHY you had to split improper fractions into mixed fractions. And sometimes, I didn’t have an answer. But if anything, I felt like they really started looking up to me after the first few weeks. I went back twice a week, sometimes even waking up at 7 am to bike to the school site. It was such a rewarding experience, and I could babble on and on about how great it was. On the last day, the four kids I was working with had moved their way up into the middle section of the class, scoring above average on their last quiz. And they were so sad to see me leave.
Unfortunately, I only did JEP for a semester. I wish I could have stayed with it, but my second semester classes didn’t offer it. It wasn’t until later that I realized that you don’t even have to be in a special class to do JEP: you can just volunteer separately instead. JEP is something I might try to do if I have a slightly easier semester one year, since I had such a great experience doing it. I remember coming back to Birnkrant after teaching, and my roomies would just be waking up, and I would be feeling so happy that I hung out with the coolest 4th graders ever and taught them how to add mixed fractions. Hands down, greatest experience first semester.